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The evidence of the route of our travellers, afforded by the letters of introduction, fails us at Autun; the probability is that thence they would make the best of their way northward along the well-frequented highroad to Gessoriacum (Boulogne), the usual port of embarkation for Britain, from before the days of Julius Cæsar down to the present day. At Gessoriacum they would probably halt for a few days to recover from the fatigue of their long march; and daily, from the hill on which the old town stood, would gaze wistfully across the channel to the opposite white cliffs of the island, the goal of their long journey. One fine morning, having taken farewell of Candidus, but taking with them the Frank interpreters, they would embark with a fair wind and set sail. Richborough would be the port for which they would make. It was the usual port of entry from the opposite shore, for Portus Lemanis (Lymne) could only be approached by a winding and difficult creek through the marshes ; Dubriæ (Dover) was, and still is, in spite of modern improvements, dangerous in rough weather; Sandwich Bay, in those days—the passage is silted up nowafforded a safe entrance into the Wansum estuary, where the run of the tides formed the only drawback —for it was hardly a danger to those who knew their ways. Our voyagers would therefore make for the cliffs, and then coast along them north-eastward towards the gap in the white wall—from Walmer to Ramsgate-enter the estuary of the Wansum, and cast anchor in the narrow strait.
The wide tract of level land between Walmer and Ramsgate has undergone considerable changes in the intervening centuries between then and now. Then it
was in great part covered with water. The little stream of the Stour, which now runs through the meadows and forms the boundary of the Isle of Thanet, was then an arm of the sea a mile wide, and made Thanet really an island, and ships bound up the Thames for the commercial emporium of London sailed through it, instead of passing as they must now do round the Foreland, and encounter the dangers of the sandbanks which beset the mouth of the Thames.
There were two harbours in the estuary of the Wansum-Rutupiæ, by that time known by the Saxon name of Richborough, was the principal port on the mainland of Kent. The old Roman fortress, situated upon a promontory above the level of the marshes, still stands, in places thirty feet high, with its square and round flanking towers, a relic of the Roman rule. But the little harbour of Ebbe's Fleet, on the opposite side of the estuary, was the port of the island; and it was there that Augustine and his company first set foot upon the land which was to be the scene of their future life and labours.
The authority for saying that Augustine landed at Ebbe’s Fleet is Thorn, the fourteenth century monk of St. Augustine's; but there is other evidence that it was the usual landing-place for Thanet at an early date. Hengist and Horsa, St. Mildred, and the Danes, are all said to have landed there. Ebbe's Fleet is still the name of a farmhouse standing on a strip of high ground, rising out of the Minster Marshes, marked at a distance by the row of trees which crowns it; and, on a nearer approach, it is seen that it must once have been a headland or promontory running out into the sea between the two inlets of the estuary of the Stour on one
side, and Pegwell Bay on the other. In early days a rock was shown here, on which it was said that Augustine placed his foot as he landed, and the impress of his foot remained on it as if it had been plastic clay. In later times it was said that St. Mildred landed there, and that it was her foot which left its miraculous mark, and a chapel dedicated to St. Mildred was erected over it.
ENGLAND IN 596 A.D.
THE fears which had beset them at Marseilles, and made them seek to turn back from their enterprise, would be allayed when they found themselves among civilised people, who treated them with consideration, and only required that they should wait till the will of King Ethelbert could be ascertained as to their further movements. Augustine sent a messenger to the King from Thanet, and waited for the answer, and for some days the party halted there; the Kentishmen, not unaccustomed to the sight of foreign visitors, yet wondering at this large company of Italians with their tonsured heads and strange monastic robes; the Italians eagerly studying the large, fair-complexioned, blue-eyed natives, among whom they were henceforth to live, and their strange, rude ways; each asking the other all kinds of questions through their Frank interpreters.
Here we may conveniently take our stand, and from this corner of the land consider the condition of the island and its people, as it would be presented to the Italians in answer to their inquiries.
Kent was the first part of the island which had been conquered by the Teutonic invaders. It is probable that its conquest had been effected with less violence, less disturbance of the native population, and therefore with less interruption of its prosperity, than some other parts.
The Jutes had come into the island one hundred and fifty years before (c. 450), and the grant of Thanet as the payment of their military services was the beginning of their kingdom. Oisc, the son of the mythic Hengist, was the first to take the title of King of Kent, and his descendants were called Oiscings; Oisc was the father of Octa, and he of Irminric, and he of Ethelbert, now reigning. The kingdom of the South Saxons had been founded to the west of them, and the kingdom of the West Saxons still further westward, and so the whole south of the country had been conquered and settled as far as the Avon on the borders of Wilts and Dorset by the year 516 ; soon afterwards the East Saxons had founded a kingdom in the country north of the Thames, and the East Angles in the eastern peninsula still to the north of Essex; and thus, by the year 577, the whole eastern side of the country, as far north as the Humber, had been conquered and settled.
The settlement of the respective territories and mutual relations of the independent bands of conquerors had not been effected without some appeals to the arbitrament of arms. When their boundaries had been adjusted, there was still a question of supremacy of one over the rest to be determined. Bede records that the first who exercised this supremacy "over all the southern provinces that are divided from the northern by the river Humber, and the borders contiguous to the same," was Ælle, King of the South Saxons, then it came to Ceawlin, King of the West Saxons, and then Ethelbert of Kent obtained it.